Continuing on in the week long series on the 50 most valuable assets in major league baseball. If you missed the introduction, it can be found here.
Ranking, Player, Position, Franchise, 2006-2008 WPA/LI
35. Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston, 13.93 WPA/LI
34. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego, 6.91 WPA/LI
33. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas, 2.03 WPA/LI
32. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles, -0.13 WPA/LI
31. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, New York Yankees, 1.93 WPA/LI
Just to make sure that no one thought his .896 OPS last year was the beginning of a decline, Berkman has gone on a super human tear in 2008, posting the best half year of his life and putting himself firmly in the race for NL MVP. A power hitter who also controls the strike zone, Berkman is Pujols-lite, and his glove work at first base is a lot better than it was in the outfield. He gave the Astros a home town discount when they re-signed him, and considering how reasonable his contract is for a player of his abilities, he’d be one of the most coveted hitters on the market if Houston ever made him available. Which they won’t.
Gonzalez has established himself as a real star by doing the impossible – posting a .500+ SLG% while playing half his game in Petco Park for three consecutive years. If he played in any other park in baseball, the world would know Gonzalez as one of the game’s best hitters, but his environment and the Padres relative anonymity have kept him flying below the radar. However, at age 26, Gonzalez has become a real offensive force and also one of the game’s best defensive first baseman. He’s signed through 2010, but I’m betting that San Diego will pick up the $5.5 million option they have for 2011 as well.
Kinsler is known for his power, but did you know he’s got 54 career stolen bases while only being caught 7 times? He has a chance to go 30-30 this year, and while his home park certainly helps him, he’d be a good player on any field in America. He’s not as good as he’s hitting right now, but he doesn’t have to keep up this level of performance to establish himself as an all-star. The Rangers decision to lock him up through 2013 looks like a very good one.
Kershaw is one of the better young left-handed starting pitching prospects we’ve seen in years. He’s often compared to Scott Kazmir, though it’s quite possible that Kershaw could be even better. At just 20-years-old, he’s showing that he’s not quite ready to carry a rotation yet (his command, in particular, needs some work), but the talent is obvious, and the ceiling with this kid is very, very high.
How much do I really need to write about Joba? If you’ve been alive for the last year, you know the deal – top prospect becomes dominant reliever, steals the hearts and minds of New York, and is now making the transition back to the starting rotation. Despite some normal bumps in the road while getting stretched out, his recent starts have shown why the Yankees want him on the hill every five days instead of keeping him in the bullpen. His stuff is still top shelf, and his ability to miss bats and throw strikes give him the chance to be an elite starting pitcher. That’s just simply more valuable than any reliever, and the Yankees made the right choice.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.